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Clutch bassist talks Earth Rocker approach, band longevity, career challenge
For the recent release of Clutch's album Earth Rocker, the Maryland band returned to 2004's Blast Tyrant album
producer: Machine (Miss May I, Lamb Of God, Pitchshifter). Now into a month of its release, the "bare bones" faster
paced rock album has received much praise, hitting No. 1 on Billboard's Top Hard Rock Album chart and No. 15 on the
Billboard 200. While gearing up for continued touring in support of the band's tenth studio release, Clutch bassist Dan
Maines spoke to Out Of The Blue.
OOTB: Clutch did quite a bit of pre-production work for the Earth Rocker record compared to other albums.
Yes. That has a lot to do with the way our producer, Machine, works. His style of recording a band for the most part he
tries to map each song in a very detailed way, in both his computer and his brain. I think it just makes it less things that
he has to worry about when we go into the studio to record the final version. He also has a lot of input into the song as
far as helping us stay on direction. I think that’s a good role of a producer is being able to know when to step in and
say “maybe you should go back to doing what you did yesterday or maybe you should try something completely
different.” He’s good at doing that and not overstating his point. Not so much that the band will completely dismiss it
because it wasn’t their idea. He works well with the band.
OOTB: Considering the band’s new album and changes in technology since you first started recording, what thoughts
do you bring to the table when recording and translating that to live performances?
When we go into the studio I would say that the majority of the time when we come up with an idea for a song, it is a
concern of ours whether or not we can realistically duplicate that on the stage. There’s no sense in writing something
or recording something that for whatever reason, the bulk of the song is something that you can’t even levitate live.
Especially on this last record, with Earth Rocker, well for the last two records especially, we really had a focus with
that frame of mind. Trying to keep everything bare bones. That kind of started off by simplifying the whole
instrumentation of the band. By the time we had hit the road to support the From Beale Street To Oblivion record, we
had multiple instruments on stage. We had harmonica, multiple guitars, keyboards and it was awesome. It worked
really well for those songs, but we wanted to try to take the band’s music in a different direction and one way to do that
was to kind of go back to the bare bones approach with just having drums, bass, guitar and vocals. That’s where we
started with Strange Cousins’ sound and we took the same approach for the Earth Rocker record.
OOTB: Would you say Clutch has gone full circle with this tenth album, back to the roots?
Not to say that we didn’t enjoy having that other instrumentation in the band or that it’s not something we wouldn’t look
to do in the future. It was something we needed to do to try and get a little more inspired. Also having our instrumental
outlet with the Bakerton Group and know that is something completely free form, especially with instrumentation.
That’s another avenue for us to experiment with other instrumentation.
OOTB: What was the process like to decide what songs to include on Earth Rocker?
Well it was kind of a long process. We had been capturing ideas for about two years. Just not really trying to write
whole songs, but whenever we had a part or two parts, we would put that on tape and put it away and not think about
it anymore and move onto a new idea. We had over a year and a half’s worth of stuff like that. When we started
listening back to it, there was stuff that really took everyone’s interest the most. Songs like “Earth Rocker” in its
earliest incarnation and “Unto The Breach.” It was faster material than what we had done with Strange Cousins and it
really appealed to us. From that point, making that realization, we put all our focus on songs that more or less were
faster than your typical Clutch song on the last two or three records. We really wanted to keep the energy high and
that’s another thing that machine really helped us with, the possibility of raising the tempo on certain parts in the songs
just to keep that overall vibe. It worked out perfect. Originally we were just going to keep it at ten songs and one of the
last songs we wrote was “Gone Cold” and it seemed like a perfect way to split ten, more or less evenly tempoed,
songs in half. I’m really happy with the way the whole thing turned out.
OOTB: Reflecting back on your career as a whole, what was the biggest challenge you encountered as a band, in any
aspect, the most difficult thing you’ve been through?
Early on in our musical careers, we had the fortune and misfortune of being signed really early on to a major label. We
put out our first 7 inch in ’91. We went on our first tour in ’92 and by ’93 we were recording and releasing a full length
album on Atlantic Records. It was a weird time, being on a major label in the early 90s. There was alternative music
just blowing up on the radio and we got caught up in that wave of bands. The expectations that labels had on bands
was nerve wracking. The mentality of the label was to record a band in a studio, throw thousands of dollars into
promoting them and if the record doesn’t go gold, then it’s a failure and that’s a ridiculous mentality to have for 95
percent of the bands. But, that’s just the way it works in that business. We were fighting against that thought process.
We were like give us a couple of months on the road to support this thing and we thought being dropped by one label
and picking up a new label that things would be different, but it turned out to be exactly the same. We did a lot of
shuffling around and it took us awhile to figure out that it’s not our bag. We don’t belong in that scene. I think that more
and more over the years the general public started to realize that and nowadays things work completely different and it
really is a lot more empowering for upcoming bands.
OOTB: With the band’s own label, Weathermaker Music, is there any plans to sign other artists in the future?
It’s something that’s always been in the back of our minds, but we didn’t want to rush into it. It’s one thing to record
your own and try to put the record out and screw it up and it’s another thing to do that to a friend of yours or to a band
that you really have a lot of respect for. We’re waiting until we have all the pieces in place, taking it step by step and
we’ll see what happens.
OOTB: Clutch has been together with the original line up since forming in 1990. What’s the secret to maintaining
longevity as a band in the music industry?
Good question. We were young when we started the band and for the most part it was really the first band that most of
us were in. We were just excited to be writing our own stuff. We just had a goal of playing shows. Eventually it
happened for us and we just tried to get more and more shows. It quickly became apparent to us that more than
anything we’re a live band. Not just playing the same thing every night, but trying different things, experimenting and
that was really the most fun aspect of being in a band for us. So, as long as we continue to stay on the road, play
shows and have a good time doing it, we’re all happy.
OOTB: On the other side of things, what has been the greatest moment of Clutch’s career?
I would say right now. We have our own label, we just put out our own record on our own label, the record has done
better in the first month of any of records that we have ever put out in the past. We’re in the middle of some great
shows and I think this is what we’ve been working towards and I would say this is definitely a high point in our career.
OOTB: Looking at the rest of the year, is there a music video planned and how much more extensive touring?
There’s been talk of doing a proper video. We did a couple lyric videos which was nice just to get the music out there.
It’s hard to schedule the time needed to make a nice video. We have a summer tour in Europe when this tour’s over in
the states. We come back home, have some down time and then we go back out on the road in the states. We’ll be on
and off touring in the states until the end of the year.
OOTB: If you were any car part other than a clutch, what would you be?
(laughs) Hmmm. The radio. I would definitely be the radio.
Clutch drummer Jean-Paul Gaster, vocalist Neil Fallon, bassit Dan Maines, guitarist Tim Sult.
(Photo Courtesy of Freeman Promotions)